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An Upper Midwest state fair frames this lackadaisical tale of three misspent young lives.

Edward Steinke is certain, despite the evidence of his senses and his bank account, that he’s one of the last true professional salesmen in America, because he’s obsessively read and studied a tome from the 1950s, Classic Sales: Theory and Technique, by one Alfred Orditz. Seeking to put Orditz’s theories about “Perfect Execution” into practice, Ed and his ne’er-do-well younger brother Barry have taken a booth at a state fair in an unnamed state that sounds suspiciously like the author’s Wisconsin home. There, Ed, on his best days rigid and uncomfortable with other people, tries to use Orditz to sell fairgoers his product: a gloriously unsellable $1,400 piano organ. Barry knows how pointless this endeavor is, but as his life so far has been limited to playing in a horrible cover band and napping at his job as a paper distributor, he feels powerless to turn down his older brother’s request for help. As Ed fumes about the more successful barkers at the fair—who seem to be raking in the dollars despite their flagrant ignorance of Orditz—Barry tries to pick up teenage girls, the two of them bicker endlessly, and a convenience-store clerk named Leila wanders in and out of the narrative. At first, it seems that Leila, who appears to be too good for all the drudgery around her, will hold the rambling tale together. But this debut seems to have as little on its mind as any of its numb and clueless characters. Settings are wonderfully evoked, and Sernovitz’s deadpan Midwestern absurdity throws off comedic sparks here and there, but the story runs out of momentum well before its conclusion.

A story of nowhere jobs in a plasticized über-Midwest with a good feel for where it wants to be, but little idea how to get there.

Pub Date: Oct. 16th, 2001
ISBN: 0-8050-6777-9
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2001


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